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Associations that have been around for a while—years, decades even—are doing a lot of things right. A word of caution, though. It’s easy to get complacent, to keep doing what’s always been done because it “works,” or because everyone is too busy to contemplate a better way.

See if this sounds familiar: Your association runs basically the same marketing plans year after year for membership and events. You have similar messaging and a similar value prop every time. You also have the same overall look and feel, the same offers, the same vibe. You might even cut and paste messages from years past into your current promotional materials. Maybe you’re short on time. Maybe you truly believe it’s hard to top a classic.

Even if what you’re doing “works,” chances are you’re leaving something on the table: memberships, registrations, and non-dues revenue. Sure, you are getting members in your door and filling some seats at your events. But consider how many people might be tuning you out after all these years. And imagine how many more people are out there that your association could help and support if only they knew you existed. If only they knew how great and valuable your offerings are.

There’s an old business saying, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” It used to mean that if you don’t change, you’ll never grow. Nowadays, however, that’s a best case scenario. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll erode your brand. You could see a decline in your membership and event numbers until eventually your association ceases to exist.

It’s time to get more. To shake things up. To ensure your association will still be around for decades to come. Newspapers, print ads, and direct mail were once the backbone of a solid event marketing strategy. Then came email. And now associations are sending lots and lots of email. Too much email. Digital ads, AI, and automation are powerful new tools, but they’re also causing a noisy, always-on, information-overload culture that can actually decrease engagement. It’s essential to put your time and money behind the things that will do you the most good and lay aside the things that no longer serve you well.

Don’t just change for the sake of change. Change is tough. It’s hard to get buy-in for new processes, ideas, and tools. You need to make the right changes. The most meaningful changes. The ones that stand to make the biggest difference in terms of your event and membership numbers and, by extension, your association itself.

Let the data tell you which changes to make. Track performance. Talk to your members to understand their current goals, fears, and pain points. Consider your options carefully. Don’t just jump on the latest digital trends. Think like your members and prospects and do what’s best for them—not necessarily what’s the easiest or most fun for your association. Approach challenges with boldness and scrappy determination to fuel members’ success and to secure the future of your association

Give us a call and let’s talk about your tactics, so that you can blow 2024 out of the water!

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Small Companies
If you’re like most associations, your member recruitment strategy probably goes something like this:
  1. Work very hard to get the largest companies in your industry to join, because their dues are the highest.
  2. Work even harder to get the medium-sized companies in your industry to join, because they are your reliable base.
  3. Let the small companies just find you, because the combination of lesser dues + resources needed to serve them doesn’t always feel worth it.

We understand this approach. We also know that associations must do a delicate juggling act. You need to make your payroll to stay viable, but you’re also nonprofit, charged with representing the industry.

In other words, you’re supposed to be doing it all, but your staff lacks the time and resources. So, you adopt a triage mentality, and focus your efforts on what seems like it will produce the greatest rewards.

But what if we told you there was an easily available opportunity that didn’t make your life harder and wouldn’t add more work? One that would allow you to better represent your industry AND grab a boatload of dues-paying members?

The answer is behind door number three, where the small companies are hanging out.

We’re going to show you exactly WHY you should grab them and HOW to make it worth your while.

Why Your Association Should Actively Recruit Smalls

One of our clients is a large association in the human resources industry, with about 36,000 members, and an 88% retention rate. After some discussions about their membership goals, we helped them create a campaign that would specifically target smaller businesses in the industry.

They got more than 50 new members in a matter of two months.

Here’s what the Senior Vice President and Chief Membership Officer of the association told us the other day during our weekly check-in.

“Right now, we have so many applications coming in from new members that we can’t even process them all. And we are on course to set an all-time revenue high.”

There are so many things that are great about this. First, they have an influx of new people. New people bring new blood and new opportunities. Because the CEO of that $4 million company you just recruited might be the decision maker at a $25 million company in a few years.

You never know the energy and possibility that can come with ANY new member—and that includes one that is 10 times smaller than the largest organization on your roster.

Plus, when you have a rich blend of large, medium, AND small organizations in the mix, you’re much better able to uphold your mission of representing ALL voices in the industry.

And then there’s the most obvious thing: Smaller organizations are low-hanging fruit. No-brainer revenue. The benefits of belonging to your association far outweigh the dues for most of these smalls. You just need to take the time to articulate the right message to them.

How to Handle Smalls? Automate!

We know what you’re thinking: This all sounds good, but it takes effort to recruit smalls. And if we don’t put in the effort to retain them, they’ll leave after the first year and blow our retention rate.

We hear you, and you’re right. That is a challenge. Fortunately, there’s a great answer: Automation!

You know how we helped our HR industry association client get those 50 new members? We ran multiple digital campaigns for them throughout the year. That’s it. No heavy lifting required.

We helped them craft a targeted message. It required a modest initial investment, and then it ran itself—and it continues to run itself.

That same automation can work for onboarding and retention workflow. You probably can’t afford to hire a member representative who is solely dedicated to the smalls. But you can use modern technology to streamline the process.

Targeting small organizations allows you to grow your association, thoroughly represent the industry, and plant seeds for future growth.

We understand the challenges. But we truly believe this is one of the least-accessed, BEST opportunities right now for associations.

We’d be happy to bounce ideas around with you, and help you envision what a targeted campaign to the smalls would look like.

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Think Like a Prospect
Raise your hand if this sounds like your association…

You need more prospects. So you offer up a nice piece of content in exchange for an email address. Congratulations, you found some interested people! Next, you fire off an automated drip campaign with three or four “canned” emails as follow up. The majority of your interested people promptly delete these emails and unsubscribe from your list. Very few engage further, and even fewer convert. Your association continues to struggle with membership numbers, and you are very tired of marketing that just doesn’t work.

But Why Doesn’t It Work?

Literally no one wants to be spammed with a bunch of emails just because they needed some information. Would you?

There’s a better way, and it starts by thinking like a prospect. If you yourself wouldn’t want a bunch of impersonal emails, irrelevant offers, or jargon-filled sales letters, your prospects won’t either. It’s time to imagine life from your prospect’s point of view so you can improve your marketing and get the results your association needs to thrive.

Here are four steps to get you started.

Quit bombing people with communications you wouldn’t want yourself.

In addition to the prospecting example above, your association might be guilty of some of these other marketing missteps:

  • You send members 20 or 30 emails about your annual event every year.
  • You continuously email 8,000-10,000 people when you only need a few hundred interested parties.
  • You send 20,000 direct mail packages and get less than 30 sign-ups.

Instead, let your people tell you what they want. Look at their online behaviors. As follow-up, create multiple workflows based on how people have engaged with your messages and offers. Personalize the customer journey as much as possible.

For example, if 50 people downloaded your content, send those 50 people a thoughtful direct mail piece. Don’t mail more than 300. Look at your list and whittle it down to the most likely prospects.

Shift how you think about your events and membership.

Thinking like a prospect means acknowledging that there’s a lot to be worried about right now. Things like war, Covid, and the economy add to the pressures of daily work. People might not have money or time to join your association or travel to your event, and they might have other concerns as well.

More importantly, they’ve figured out how to live without your event for the last two years and they’re still doing fine. Online resources have effectively taken the place of your association for many people. It’s not realistic to think that everyone will rush to your event simply because it’s once again occurring in person.

You will need to be patient as you entice people to attend or join. Given all of today’s challenges, it will take more time than you’d like to nurture your leads in a logical, thoughtful, personalized manner.

Make a dramatic change in what you say.

Speak in a conversational tone. After all, that’s what you prefer when others talk to you. Ditch abstract, overused words like “thought leadership” and “strategic connections.” Swap those for concrete terms that promise benefits. Focus on what sets you apart from competitors.

Communicate in words an eighth grader would understand. Yes, you are a professional organization with in-depth, complex information and resources. But your marketing has to be simple. It has to engage people quickly or they will hit delete and move on.

Rethink your use of marketing automation.

Marketing automation isn’t a “set it and forget it” tool. To be successful, you must set up multiple workflows based on your audience’s goals and pain points, your organization’s resources, and your users’ actual behaviors. Then you need to make adjustments as you go based on performance.

Ideally, marketing automation captures data that you can use to customize future communications and improve your numbers. It helps you reach more people with personalized messages and offers. Too often, however, associations use automation as a way to put their marketing on autopilot. At that point, it’s just more spam.

For every campaign you launch, stop and ask yourself what a member or prospect would want. Is it really another email? Or is it a phone call from a helpful human? Additional useful content? A direct mail piece? Something else?

Start Making Changes Now

Giving people individualized attention is hard to do, and there is no “golden ticket” that will instantly improve your numbers. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start now. As the last few years have shown us, anything can happen. Better marketing now means your association will be poised to thrive no matter what the future holds.


Think like a prospect is No. 3 in our ebook, 3 Action Steps Associations Can Take to Achieve Goals. What are numbers 1 and 2? Download it and see.

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Customer Journey

It’s great to be passionate about your association. It’s understandable that you want to tell everyone about all the resources you offer, all at once. COVID-19 and other disruptions add to the urgency to get in front of more people with more things. But casting a wide net and crossing your fingers isn’t a sustainable strategy to reaching your goals—and it doesn’t serve your members well either.

A better idea is to find your people and move them along a curated path from awareness to consideration to decision. Amid all of today’s crises, it’s more important than ever to have a focused customer journey so people don’t get lost along the way. Follow these eight steps to get started.

1. Know your goal

Choose one goal at a time. For example, maybe you want to increase member acquisition by 5%. Sure, you have events, products, and retention to worry about. But for right now, stay focused on this one goal.


2. Find your people

Who isn’t a member that should be? The answer isn’t “everyone in our industry who hasn’t joined yet.” Define your ideal prospect based on whatever factors are meaningful to your organization—demographics, years in business, annual revenue, number of employees, etc.


3. Nurture them along the path

Customize your messaging and offers to provide timely, relevant communications that meet people where they are. Focus on benefits to the individual, not on your association’s agenda. Answer the question: What am I paying for?


4. Go beyond email

Don’t bombard people with impersonal emails! Use a range of content types, including video, stories, retargeting, ebooks, and more. Present a cohesive look and feel across formats to help people recognize and remember you.


5. Automate the journey

The only way to personalize the customer journey for enough individuals to meet your goals is through marketing automation using a series of if-then statements. 

For example:
  • IF a prospect clicks your social ad, THEN they are taken to a landing page to download a helpful piece of content.
  • IF they enter their email on that page, THEN they go into a drip email campaign with a new set of “if-thens”
  • IF they don’t enter their email, THEN they are retargeted on the web, or perhaps another social media platform, and the process repeats.

Remember to focus on one goal at a time. Let’s say your ad in the above example is about your resource library, an exclusive member benefit. The landing page should feature a piece of content from your resource library. The email drip campaign should be about the resource library and maybe one or two additional member benefits. If people click an ad for a resource library, don’t take them to a landing page for your annual conference—no matter how much you think they’ll benefit from attending. 


6. Ask for action

If you want someone to join, ask them to join. Don’t assume they will come to you on their own. There is too much noise out there competing for their attention—from your competitors, sure, but also from the daily chaos of their jobs and lives.


7. Track and analyze

Marketing automation provides real-time data to help you trigger steps in the customer journey based on what people want. Combine that with a customer relationship management program to track and score leads. Now you can calculate campaign ROI as well as cost per sales-qualified lead and marketing-qualified lead.


8. Repeat

Choose a new goal—maybe, event attendance—and repeat steps 1-7. Let the data tell you what’s working, what’s not, and where to focus your efforts so you can achieve your goals.


Be better

Today’s challenges force people to prioritize how they spend their time and money. That in turn forces your association to up your game if you want to make the cut. An automated customer journey can help you focus your resources on the mostly likely prospects and the highest value benefits you can offer them.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 2: The Plan

Part 2: The Plan

This is the second post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. We’re covering six key marketing elements to help you reach your goals. If you missed our last edition, check out Part 1: The Cause.

How to Create a Digital Marketing Plan

Save time and money while boosting your marketing results with a quick and painless plan

So you know your cause, and you want to tell the world about it. You’ve got resources to share plus events to promote and products to sell. It’s tempting to blast your members and prospects with all these valuable things at once. But hold on a second…


Why you need a marketing plan

Getting attention and moving people to act involves a balance of timing, frequency, relevancy, and format. You need to meet your audience where they are or they won’t engage. Even a simple marketing plan can help you achieve better results while saving you time, money, and effort. Before you launch another promotion, stop and sketch out a plan.


Why your plan needs digital

You can’t improve results if you keep doing the same old thing. Now is a great time to embrace digital tools. Digital advertising and email automation enable precise audience targeting and follow-up based on actual user behaviors. With digital, you can customize each user’s experience with your brand to improve outcomes.


How to create a digital marketing plan

Planning a year of marketing might seem daunting, but it takes just seven steps.

1. Establish goals.

Set specific goals. If you want more members or event attendees, how many? What is your non-dues revenue target? Other goals might include web visitors or social media followers, email performance metrics, or improved member satisfaction. As much as possible, express your goals in hard numbers and concrete terms.


2. Get to know your audience better.

Dig deeper into your audience to improve your marketing like never before.

Consider three categories of data:
  • Demographics: age, gender, household income/company revenues, geography, years in business or profession, political affiliation, hobbies or special interests, etc.
  • History with your association: past purchase history, events attended, years as a member, volunteer positions, etc.
  • Data gleaned from online behaviors: web pages visited, articles or e-books downloaded, email opens, clicks etc.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a ton of data. With digital marketing, you will gain data as your campaigns progress. You can use what you learn to solidify and improve your efforts going forward.


3. Focus on value.

Go beyond networking, education, and certifications to focus on value. How will your association make people’s lives easier, save them money, or advance their careers? Brainstorm tangible benefits of your membership, events, products, and certifications. Calculate ROI whenever possible to prove you’re worth people’s time, money, and effort to engage.


4. Choose an engaging format.

Choose a format, platform, or channel based on your audience, goals, and budget. Some of the most effective strategies are email drip and nurture campaigns, social ads paired with helpful content (ex: whitepapers, e-books), and web retargeting. But you’ll need to test and track to see what works for your audience.


5. Create a marketing calendar.

Timing matters. Consider what else might be going on in your audience’s lives: holidays, industry events, competitor messages, other comms from your organization, etc. Schedule your promotions when they will have the least competition from other sources. Then make sure your team is aware of launches and prepared to field responses.


6. Execute.

Don’t fall victim to analysis paralysis. At some point you have to put your best foot forward and launch your initiatives into the world.


7. Track performance.

You must track performance and analyze results to know if your plan is working. From there, you can make adjustments on the fly or learn from past efforts to improve in the future.

Your cause is the driving force behind your organization, but without a plan you can’t reach your full potential. Adding digital marketing to your plan can further improve your results while saving you time and money. Ready to get started on your marketing plan? Download the free Sample Marketing Plan below to guide your efforts.

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Is Your Association Putting Off Creating a Lead Gen Funnel?

If you’ve ever procrastinated on giving the-birds-and-the-bees talk to your kid or having an uncomfortable conversation with a friend, you know that we tend to put off difficult things.

We avoid difficult things in business, too. Often, we do the easy-to-understand thing over and over again, even if it produces poor results. The hard-to-understand thing promises better results . . . but it can feel so complicated!

We run into this thinking with associations when we talk about lead generation funnels and customer journeys. While no association executive has ever held their ears closed and said, “La la la, I can’t hear you!” when we talk about lead gen, we can tell from their frightened looks and body language it’s what they want to do.

If you’re afraid of a lead generation funnel, you’re afraid of the wrong thing. A lead gen funnel is the only thing standing in the way of your association becoming obsolete in the next five years. Tactics like random fishing on LinkedIn and buying lists to import into your database may have been effective once, but they no longer work.

You have to be smarter.

The good news is, we make it easy for you because we’ve done the hard work of engineering smart funnels that guide prospects along the journey they choose, so they wind up at your landing page, clicking “Join Now.”

Download the Lead Generation Customer Journey to view larger >

What is a Lead Generation Funnel?

Lead generation funnels solve a big problem for member organizations: They help you increase membership and event attendance. They do this by expanding your prospect pool, turning your prospects into qualified leads, and then turning your qualified leads into members.

A lead generation funnel is essentially a holistic, digital map that guides your prospects along a journey. It’s fully automated and built out using an “if/then” system.

For example:
  • IF a prospect clicks to watch a Facebook video, THEN they are taken to a landing page with a simple call-to-action to stay connected.
  • IF they enter their email on that page, THEN they go into a drip/nuture email campaign with its own set of “if/thens.”
  • IF they don’t enter their email, THEN they are re-targeted on Facebook, or perhaps another platform, and the process repeats.

A good lead generation funnel engages with multiple social media platforms and uses responsive list management software that ushers prospects through the journey.

Because it’s automated, after you create your funnel, all you have to do is hit “go.”


Know Your Numbers: Prospect Pools, Qualified Leads, and Conversion Ratios

A lead generation funnel helps you get clear on your numbers.

For example, do you have any idea how large your prospect pool is?

This is often the first stumbling block for associations. They have no idea what number they are starting with. Is it 500? 5,000? 50,0000?

This math matters, because you need to know how many people you’re starting with so you can keep track of the percentage of those people who become qualified leads, and then the percentage of qualified leads who become members.

These are your conversion ratios.

If you don’t know these ratios, you’re just guessing. And while guessing is a legitimate strategy on a standardized test when you don’t know the right answer, it doesn’t tend to hold up as a sustainable marketing strategy.

Your funnel will help to determine your ratios. You’ll be able to track how many people you are talking to each step of the way, so you know your numbers.


Conversion Assets: High Quality Content That Inspires

Your automation has to be spot-on, but your funnel is only as good as the content that feeds it.

You always need high-quality, sticky content, including captivating videos, well-written stories, and compelling graphics.

Though your prospect pool is large, you still need to think carefully about what will catch a prospect’s eye and hit their pain points. At each point along the way, you need strong conversion assets. These assets include landing pages, emails, videos, blog posts, social media posts, newsletters, webinars, and direct mail pieces.

Just because you’re introducing math into the mix, it doesn’t mean you can stop focusing on inspiring people. In fact, you need to focus even more strongly on inspiring people.

More than anything, you need to shift your thinking from one-off campaigns to a holistic approach that blends extraordinary storytelling with the best that marketing automation can offer.

Why put it off when it can make all the difference for the future of your association?

Instead of spinning around in overwhelm, let us walk you through what a lead gen funnel could look like for your organization. Contact Us Today >

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